The Purpose of a Website

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What is the purpose of a website?

This may sound like a foolish question, but it should be the first one you ask when starting every new web design project, especially when building your own site. Judging from the many design firm sites I see, most designers do not ask themselves this question, or, if they do, they do not seem to take the time to really think about the answer.

Many designers believe that their site’s central function is to show their visitors how creative they are. I disagree. Certainly, a portion of the site should serve this purpose, but this is not the primary purpose of the site. The site’s key role is to generate business, and demonstrating creativity is only part of what converts a visitor into a prospect. Designing a website with the primary goal of demonstrating creativity is akin to an architect designing a demo house with the sole intent of showing how many different styles she can design. The result would be an interesting house but not one anyone would ever choose to live in or buy.

The same is true of your website design. The site, first and foremost, needs to be a highly usable site. You will not lose a site visitor because the home page is not splashy enough, but you will lose plenty if the site is so “creative” that the visitor cannot figure out how to get to your portfolio section within the first five seconds of landing on the site, for example.The site is the vehicle that attracts the right prospects to your company. It should intuitively guide them to the pages that interest them the most and entice them to engage with you on a more meaningful level at some point during that first visit. This means have a great UX (user experience) design.Your site is a tour visitors can take of your firm, but it is a self-guided tour, and visitors will probably not follow the path that you expect.

There are three performance indicators that you can use to evaluate your site’s ability to generate business.

1. Are you discoverable by expertise?

Check out your site’s Google Analytics account (you have one of those, right?). Go to “Traffic Sources” and then “Keywords.” There you will see a list of the search terms people used to find your site. Are those terms branded or unbranded, meaning, do they relate to who you are or rather to what you know? The latter is preferable. If the search terms all relate to your company name, domain name, or key personnel, it means that everyone visiting your site already knows about you. The greatest marketing opportunity your site represents is its ability to expose your firm to people who need your expertise but aren’t currently aware of or considering you. The more you use your site to document your expertise, the more you’ll see unbranded, expertise-based keywords filling this report.

2. Does your site give your prospects a full tour of your firm?

One indicator that your website is performing well is if visitors can easily learn about the various aspects of your firm as they move through your site based on their interests. The more accurately the site describes your firm’s expertise across different media (imagery, text, video, etc.), and the more intuitive the navigation is between those descriptions, the more successful the site will be. Your portfolio will certainly be part of the tour visitors take, but it is not the only thing they want to know about.

3. Does your site encourage prospects in various buying stages to convert into leads?

Every page on your site should have at least one and no more than three points of engagement your visitors (aka prospects) can use to give you their information in exchange for something they’d like you to do (e.g. call them, send them your monthly newsletter, register them for your next webinar, etc.).Many design firm sites only have one call to action: contact us. That’s great for the prospects that are actually ready to get in touch with you about a project, but most people visiting your site aren’t ready to take that step. Your site needs to capture people when they are trolling around the web doing research on things they might hire you for eventually.

If they’re thinking of launching a new high-end food product, for example, they know they’ll need someone to design the packaging eventually. If you’re a package designer, and publish a monthly newsletter that speaks to the complexity and details of packaging design, there’s a good chance that prospect would A, find your site, and B, sign up for that newsletter. Once they’ve done that, it’s going to be hard for your firm not to be top of mind when they’re thinking of hiring a designer.